Most people would call Mr Burgess a prodigiously fluent writer, but he would demur, pointing out that a professional should be capable of a thousand words a day, which is 365,000 a year, or five moderate-sized books, with plenty of time left over to deal with the input of information required for at least some of the output. It's obvious that his powers of assimilation are, by the standards of normal or normally lazy writers, exceptional. Nor does he squander the knowledge thus acquired: it goes into a TV series and a novel or a critical biography. One's admiration for all this prudent industry may sometimes be tempered by a feeling that the product, efficient as it is, lacks aura, lacks the zest we associate with this writer in his more exuberant, less mechanical novels. His last novel-of-the-TV-series, The Kingdom of the Wicked, combines Acts and other early Christian evidence with a rehandling of the I, Claudius historical material into a large, well-conceived and doggedly executed novel, inventive but also well-researched, and authenticated by a scattering or smattering of Greek, Latin and Aramaic words from his polyglot store. For all its informative energy, the book somehow seems a bit dull.
LRB 19 September 1985 | PDF Download